Akan Teleteaching Course

Unit 3.6: Notes on grammar 1

Completive questions

The purpose of completive questions is to inquire about the identity of a missing element in the information available to the speaker. The questioned identity may be that of a person (hwan - 'who'), of a thing (den - 'what'), of the manner:
"Who will come?"
"Kofi will come."

-> na -focus in Unit 10
Question for identifying a person:
"Who is it?"
"It is me."
"It is Kofi."

Asking "how"?
"How is Kofi?"
"He is fine."
"What are your names?"
lit. "We call you how?"
"Our names are Amma and Abenaa."
lit. "We call us Amma and Abenaa."

Person markers

Subject person markers

The simple Akan sentence normally begins with a noun or a noun phrase, which is called the 'subject' of the sentence:
Aburofo mmienu bba. "Two Europeans will come."

In many cases, the subject is already known. It is not necessary in this case to repeat the noun or the noun phrase; a subject person marker (SPM) will be used in its place:
Wbba. "They will come."

The SPM forms together with the verb stem a single word characterised by vowel harmony.

Here is the complete set of subject person markers:
me- 1st person sg. 'I'
wo- 2nd person sg. 'you'
- 3rd person sg. 'he/she'
- 3rd person inanimate 'it'
y- 1st person pl. 'we'
mo- 2nd person pl. 'you'
w- 3rd person pl. 'they'
Table 1

Note on tone: The subject person markers referring to the PERSON OR PERSONS TO WHOM THE UTTERANCE IS ADDRESSED - YOU singular and plural - are HIGH-TONED, all other subject person markers are low-toned.

Object person markers (OPM) and possessive person markers (PPM)

Person markers which are not subjects differ in the following way from the SPM:

  • The 1st and 3rd person plural person markers take a final -n: yn 'us, our' wn 'them, their'. 
  • All other person markers are identical in form with the SPM, except - sometimes - for their tones. (See pronoun chart)
  • The 2nd person markers carry the same tone as the other markers.
  • The third person singular is the only one distinguishing an object person marker (OPM) nofrom a possessive person marker (PPM) ne. Both are used for humans and - though rarely - for things.

  • Both are different from the SPM ( and ) ne ba "his child"
  • The other person markers do not differ in their possessive and their object forms.
me 1st person sg. 'me, my'
wo 2nd person sg. 'you (object), your'
no 3rd person sg. object 'him/her/it'
3rd person possessive 'his/her/its'
yn 1st person pl. 'us, our'
mo 2nd person pl. 'you (object), your'
wn 3rd person pl. 'them, their'
Table 2

Note: nyinaa "all/total of something" takes the PPM:
ne nyinaa "all of it"
wn nyinaa "all of them"

-> Dolphyne (1988: 87-91)

The structure of the verb

Short vs. long verb stems

For practical purposes, it will be useful to distinguish between short and long verbs. Short verbs are characterised by one-syllable stems. The stems of long verbs have more than one syllable. The tone patterns associated with the tenses and aspects vary according to the syllable structure of the verbs.
-> Verb tone patterns

Note: Disyllabiverbs carrying a weak second syllable, such as h(n) 'see', ky(re) 'delay', kye(re) 'catch'or go(ro) 'play', follow the tonal pattern of monosyllabiverbs.
-> Additional observations on palatals

Action verbs vs. stative verbs

We will further distinguish between action verbs and stative verbs:
Action verbs k 'go', ba 'come', ma 'give', etc.
Stative verbs y'be', te "live at a place", w 'be at a place', firi "come from"
ACTION VERBS denote an action or process and carry inherent HIGH TONE.
STATIVE VERBS refer to a state and carry inherent LOW TONE

A small number of stems can function alternatively as action and as stative verbs:
hy ataade ff. "He uses to wear nice dresses." (action verb)
hy ataade ff. "He is wearing a nice dress (right now)." (stative verb)

Basitenses and aspects

Note: In this section, full tone marking is used.

The present tenses: progressive vs. habitual

Just as the English language, Akan action verbs distinguish between a habitual present and a progressive present:
Kof k sukuu. "Kofi goes to school." (This is his main occupation.)
Kof rek sukuu. "Kofi goes to school." (Just now)
k sukuu. "He goes to school." (Everyday)
rek sukuu. "He goes to school." (He is on his way to school right now)

In the habitual, the verb stem follows directly the subject or SPM.
In the progressive, the low tone prefix -re- comes between the subject and the verb stem.

Note: In everyday conversation, the prefix -re- tends to be pronounced as a lengthening of the final vowel of the subject or the SPM. The above examples would normally be heard as
Kof k sukuu. "Kofi goes to school." (This is his main occupation.)
Kof k sukuu. "Kofi goes to school." (Just now)
k sukuu. "He goes to school." (Everyday)
k sukuu. "He goes to school." (He is on his way to school right now)
Wba kurom. "They use to come to the village."
Wba kurom. "They are coming to the village (right now)."

Important: When re- is replaced by vowel lengthening, ITS LOW TONE IS MAINTAINED ON THE LENGTHENED PART OF THE VOWEL. Therefore, with this more usual pronunciation, the only audible difference between the habitual and the progressive is the lengthening, respectively the low tone on which the lengthened vowel ends.

Present vs. future

The future tense is expressed by the tense prefix -b-. Like the progressive prefix -re-, it follows the subject and is itself followed by the verb stem. Note, however, that while -re- always carries Low tone, -b- 'future' always has High tone.

Thus we obtain
Kof k sukuu. "Kofi goes to school." (This is his main occupation.)
Kof rek sukuu. [Kof k sukuu] "Kofi goes to school." (Just now)
Kof bk sukuu. "Kofi will go to school."
k sukuu. "He goes to school." (Everyday)
rek sukuu. [k sukuu] "He goes to school". (He is on his way to school right now)
bk sukuu. "He will go to school."

Note on the first person singular of the future: In the first person singular, the subject person marker me- and the future prefix -b are contracted to  m-:
me-b-k sukuu ---> m-k sukuu "I shall go to school."

Here is the full paradigm for the three tenses/aspects which we have seen in this lesson, shown with the verb ba 'come':
Habitual Progressive Future
meba mereba [meeba] mba
woba woreba [wooba] wobba
ba reba [ba] bba
ba reba [ba] bba
yba yreba [yba] ybba
moba moreba [mooba] mobba
wba wreba [wba] wbba
Table 3

Go on to Notes on grammar 2

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